First‑Born from the Dead
The responsibilities and privileges of the first‑born in Israel is a very marked feature in the scriptures. They are singled out for our attention in many places and given significant prominence as an important type. These duties, which in the fulfilment of the type involve the generations that will be raised in the coming age, are quite considerable and suggest that we who are called to qualify as the antitype of this first‑born figure take our responsibilities very seriously.
According to the law, the first‑born had the right of being priest and king, that is of interceding for and ruling over their younger brethren; on him devolved the duty of Goel or Kinsman‑redeemer, to redeem a brother who had become poor and sold himself to a stranger; to avenge his blood, to raise up seed to the dead, and to redeem the inheritance. To sustain these duties God gave the first‑born a double portion. These facts can be collectively gleaned from Exod.13:2; Num.3:12,13; 8:16; Deut.21:17 and 1 Chron.5:1,2.
Moreover an unusual transaction took place respecting the first‑born. We find it in Numbers 3:45 where the Levites were taken in their place. By so instituting the whole of the complex sacred service in this unusual way into the sole charge of the first‑born, the Lord made this one of the most important figures in the Old Testament.
The understanding, then, of all the particular features of the type should be a matter of the greatest interest to the antitypical first‑born. Most especially of course as to how we may be properly fitted for this important role in the purposes of our Heavenly Father. Of course our dear Lord fulfils this purpose completely in himself. After all he is the true first‑born, being the "firstborn of every creature." (Col.1:15)
However a most important and fundamental factor in the first‑born figure has to be understood before any one may enter into it. Christ does not fulfil the role of the first‑born as first‑born of every creature, but as "firstborn from the dead." (Col.1:18) "He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead."
This quotation establishes the fact precisely. No less importantly it also shows that all who would enter into Christ as first‑born, must likewise be born from the dead. It also implies that the nature of the first‑born portion would have its own particular significance.
This is an important matter. We have seen that first‑borns in Israel had important responsibilities to carry out, which was the point of the double portion. There was just no use in being invested with this responsibility and not being provided with the wherewithal to fulfil the duty. It therefore follows that the particular nature of this inheritance, and the assurance that it is a present possession, must be a matter of the greatest importance to the whole "Household of Faith." In the words of the apostle Peter, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure." (2 Pet.1:10)
The apostle John assures us of our standing as first‑borns. "Now are we the sons of God, and...we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2) Glorious as this promise is, nowhere does the apostle suggest that the inheritance will be conferred irrespective of our faithfulness. Rather he warns, "little children, keep yourself from idols." (1 John 5:21)
Baptized into Christ
The plain fact is that even when baptized into Christ and being led by the spirit we still remain first‑born of the creature. Our status as first‑born from the dead can only be realized when we become truly baptized into his death. Only when our consecration death into Christ is realized, do our present actions constitute a resurrected walk in Christ of the first‑born from the dead, with the assurance that we are in possession of the double portion.
I don’t want to over‑stress the negative aspect of what is a most beautiful figure, but we cannot pass over those unhappy examples of failure in the scriptures that illustrates the importance of this matter to our calling as first‑born. They are numerous and of a most salutary (restorative) nature: Adam, although a direct creation and not born in the usual sense of the word was certainly the head of his family. His was a signal failure.
Cain failed as the line for the promised seed.
Ishmael, being the son of the bondwoman, failed as the child of promise.
Esau failed as the inheritor of the blessing.
Reuben failed as the [progenitor] to the royal line.
Saul failed as the anointed of God.
Israel failed as the first‑born nation.
The elder brother of the prodigal failed in love.
They illustrate the fundamental difference between the first‑born of the creature and the first‑born from the dead. Adam as the first‑born of every creature to his posterity ever fails in all his children. Christ, the second Adam, first‑born out of death, succeeds gloriously at every step of his work.
The comparison in this light is quite remarkable and absolutely fundamental to our understanding of the first‑born type. The first‑born of the creature never entertains the idea of dying. However noble he might be, there will always be a strong element of self‑serving. His service as first‑born to his brother in need will always be partial, at best. On the other hand those born from the dead have made a total surrender of self and will always give unreservedly and at full cost for the needs of others.
Our Present Walk
Our walk then in this present life as first‑borns is initially prospective, dependent for its success on total immersion into Christ’s death, consciously looking to him that he may raise us to live the first‑born life in him. The apostle Paul’s words are precise: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Rom.6:4)
The sole objective of our present walk is to make the transfer from our earnest desire and sincere efforts, to fulfil the first‑born duties with their in‑grained tendency to serve the self that causes us to fail, and pass into that perfectly submissive will of our Lord who never thought of the cost but continually gave and gave of himself. Happily the apostle’s words not only tell us what we have to do, but also provide the key as to its successful accomplishment.
The verse we have quoted contains a most unusual expression. It tells us that Christ was raised by "the glory of God." Why not the power of God? That would be more exact. Of course the apostle has chosen his words precisely for he wants us to understand that he is talking of divine life. Now that is fine until we come back to the words "even so we also should walk in newness of life." Does the apostle really mean a resurrection life lived by this power? This is very difficult to accept, and our experience of failure confirms our doubts. Paul however understands the nature of this problem, and gives us his insight into it in his epistle to the Philippians. Writing to this church after a life‑time of the deepest consecration and self‑sacrifice, he calmly and candidly tells them that he is still not dead to self. His words on this matter are found in Philippians 3:7‑17 but we particularly quote from verse 10 onwards: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended."
This one thing I do
One could not find a more comprehensive admission of coming short. But Paul continues: "this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
So what then is the apostle’s advice? Verse 17: "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample." Paul, and others walking in the same way, had found the key and we are told to "mark" or pay attention to their course of action and to
follow it. So let’s do so. Let us go carefully over this passage and mark every step of Paul’s progress in Christ that led him to the key to the problem. Paul has shown how in the past he had learned to count all the things of this life as worthless and even to accept their loss. But now in verses 12 and 13 he shows that even this does not constitute being conformed to Christ’s death. He must press on from this, forgetting these gains in self‑denial, to "those things which are before."
What crucial difference can attend future events that can bring the desired attainment in Christ? Is Paul simply saying that we just have to keep on in the same way faithful to the end? Surely there must be some new factor. There certainly is, but not in the experiences. It is in the resurrection work of Christ, for Paul has turned the whole concept of death and resurrection on its head. In verse 10 the apostle does not say that he wishes to be conformed to Christ’s death so that he may know or possess the resurrection power, which is the logical order. Just the opposite. Realizing that he has failed to "apprehend that for which he was apprehended of Christ" he has come to see that this true death and burial into Christ can only be realized by the resurrection power itself, can only be attained if brought under the potent overshadowing of the same mighty divine creative spirit that raised up Christ on that resurrection morning, not just to life, but to divine life.
We know that Paul after realizing his need of this final divine aid received its ultimate seal, the seal that belongs to the overcomer of Revelation 7:3. In 2 Timothy 4:6,8 he writes to Timothy: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto ALL them also that love his appearing."
This is the consummation of the work of the spirit. But it is given first only as an earnest, a seal, but only a seal that we have been "apprehended of Christ" not that we have "apprehended." Gradually it opens up the word and gives us opportunities to enter into the fulness of Christ. If we are faithful to its leading, it will even bring us to accept the loss of all things, which is the best that the first‑born creature will ever attain. At this point we are ready to accept with the great apostle, our complete inability to enter any further into the baptism of Christ’s death. It is here that we know our need of his resurrection power.
Sealed with the knowledge of the mighty working of the spirit, Paul was led into that final submission that knows nothing of self‑pleasing and into the inheritance of the true first‑born of the spirit. This wonderful inheritance of the first‑born is illustrated in many types and examples for it is fundamental to the work of the new creation. Milk of the word precedes strong meat. The leading of the spirit is followed with the filling of the spirit. The baptism of John is superseded by that of Christ. The small rain and the great rain of Job 37:6, and the early and latter rains mentioned several times in scripture, likewise all show this. And of course the many first‑born types centre on this truth.
To be continued